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Back to Seized: The Soils of War
Box 3: Multinational companies
move into farming

The Soils of War

Barcelona, Spain

Box 3: Multinational companies move into farming

Soya has never been grown in Afghanistan and it doesn’t form part of the country’s culinary tradition, but a new programme, supposedly devised to combat malnutrition, plans to change all that. (1) USAID has funded Nutrition and Education International (NEI), set up by Nestlé, to teach Afghans to sow and eat soya beans. (2) NEI is linked to the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH), (3) which was founded by the American Soybean Association (ASA) in 2000, (4) to organise the distribution of free soya milk to pregnant women and infants throughout the developing world. WISHH works with the North American Millers’
Association (NAMA), whose members include global giants ADM, Bunge Milling and ConAgro. In Afghanistan NEI works with Stine Seed Company, Iowa, and Gateway Seed Company, Illinois, both of which supply it with genetically modified Roundup soya and Roundup-Ready herbicide to be sold on to the farmers. According to NEI, it distributed two tonnes of genetically modified soya seed in Afghanistan in 2005.

Stine and Gateway aren’t the only multinational seed companies to have moved in. In 2002 the German seed company KWS established a public–private partnership with the Afghan Ministry of Foods and Light Industry and a group of private Afghan investors to re-establish sugar beet cultivation in the Baghlan area, 250 km north of Kabul, and to reopen the old Baghlan Sugar Factory, once the centre of Afghanistan’s small domestic sugar industry. (5) Private companies from Germany, Iran and Russia supplied “high-yielding” sugar beet varieties, along with fertilisers. Plans have also been drawn up to use by-products from the sugar refinery processing plants – molasses and beet pulp – to produce feedstock for industrial ethanol.

But not even this project, the New Baghlan Sugar Company, could escape the war: it was in the news in November 2007 when a bomb exploded at the inauguration ceremony. Even so, the partners are pressing on with the modernisation. In 2007 KWS and Monsanto introduced in the US sugar beets genetically modified to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, despite concern that the beets would contaminate other crops. (6) There is now a risk that GM crops such as these could be used in Afghanistan, triggering off another kind of warfare with local biodiversity.

The International Potato Center (CIP) has been preparing the way for the entry of Technico Pty Limited, an Australian multinational. (7) CIP has imported into Afghanistan Technico’s varieties for trials. USAID has funded the infrastructure for a potato market, and a CGIAR team has developed a certification system.

Three US multinational companies – Chemonics, Development Alternatives Inc.(DAI), (8) and Planning and Development Collaborative International (PADCO) – are carrying out a series of USAID-funded Alternative Livelihood Programs (ALPs), which aim to provide poppy farmers with another way of earning their living. (9) Their big success to date is the export of pomegranates flown out on US military planes to a Carrefour supermarket in Dubai. (10)

1. Nutrition and Educational International (NEI), “Final Report, 2004 Soybean Production Experimentation in Mazar-e-Sharif, Balkh Province, Afghanistan”.
3. See WISHH website,
4. See American Soybean Association website,
5. FAO Newsroom, “Restarting sugar production in Afghanistan”, 17 December 2004.
6. See the Organic Seed Alliance website for more information.
7. See Technico’s website,
8. DAI is an international business development consulting firm.
9. See PADCO’s AECOM International Development website,
10. “Afghans seek image change with anar”, FreshPlaza: Global Fresh Produce and Banana News, 24 November 2008.